The Common Good

The Power of Reconciliation

Sojomail - December 1, 2004


12.01.2004 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week 'These duties corrupt'
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: The power of reconciliation
On the Ground Carrying the crosses of Christmas
Spiritual Practices Advent: 'A dangerous time for the faithful'
Soul Works Wendell Berry on common miracles
Culture Watch 'Tis better to give than receive
Religion and Politics Politics and Christ
Web Sitings Give me justice or give me nothing
Boomerang Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"When we do all these things, we are not doing it only to the Palestinians, but to ourselves, too. The most important discussion should be in our own society. If you blame the soldiers, you miss the point.... These duties corrupt."

- Michael Aman, staff sergeant in the Israeli army and friend of a checkpoint commander convicted of assault for beating an unarmed and handcuffed Palestinian man. At least 83 Palestinians seeking medical care have died during delays at checkpoints, while 39 Israeli soldiers and police officers have been killed in attacks at checkpoints and roadblocks.

Source: The Washington Post



HEARTS & MINDS ^top

The power of reconciliation
by Jim Wallis

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The 2004 election was one of those where, no matter who won, almost half the population was going to feel absolutely crushed (the half that lost in an almost 50-50 electorate). We are now deeply divided, the media says, between "red states" (Republican) and "blue states" (Democrat). So how do the people in the red and blue states talk to each other, especially people of faith?

In our divisive post-election time I thought it might be appropriate and helpful to tell a personal story of reconciliation that is very important to me, and one that I had never told before until recently. It is about my relationship with a fellow Christian who, if he were still alive, would likely have voted differently than me.

Bill Bright was the founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical organization on campuses around the country. Motivated, above all else, by the Great Commission, Bill Bright wanted to reach every person on the planet for Christ "in this generation." Concerned about the "moral degeneration" of America, Bright wanted America to come back to God - which for him meant an ultra-conservative political agenda. Bill and I were both evangelical Christians, but we clearly disagreed on a whole range of political issues.

In 1976, Bill Bright joined a far-right member of Congress named John Conlan and other conservatives in a project to mobilize evangelical prayer and cell groups for political purposes. It was, in fact, the first attempt to create a "Religious Right" in American politics - several years before the founding of groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.

We at Sojourners decided to investigate. It became the most extensive investigative project we had ever undertaken, and resulted in a cover story in the magazine titled "The Plan to Save America." Bright was publicly embarrassed by our expose and the whole experience. Though we had been scrupulously careful, backing up every fact in the story with at least three sources, Bright angrily denounced me. We invited Bright and the others involved to respond, both before and after the article was published, but they chose not to. Because we also differed on almost every political question from Vietnam to domestic issues, a bitter and public polarization grew up between Bill Bright and myself.

The bad blood continued for many years. I remember a particularly painful moment one year at a dinner for evangelical leaders, when Bright again went on the attack against me in a very public way, calling me a "liar."

More than two decades later, Bright and I found ourselves at yet another religious leaders' dinner. When I saw him across the room, I swallowed hard and headed in his direction. He obviously didn't recognize me after so long. I introduced myself, and he became quiet. I said, "Bill, I need to apologize to you. I was in a hotel several months ago and knew you were there too. I should have come to your room and tried to mend the painful breach between us after all these years. I didn't do that, and I should have. I'm sorry."

The now-old man reached out and wrapped his arms around me. Then he said, "Jim, we need to come together. It's been so long, and the Lord would have us come together." We both had tears in our eyes and embraced for a long time. Then Bill said, "Jim, I'm so worried about the poor, about what's going to happen to them. You're bringing us together on that, and I want to support you." I was amazed. We agreed to get together soon.

A few months later, Bill and I were again, coincidentally, at the same hotel. I called Bill and we agreed to a walk on the beach together the next morning. Bill and I shared our own conversion stories. We shared our callings and dreams for our respective ministries, and how we might be more connected. Bill then astounded me, saying, "You know, Jim, I'm kind of a Great Commission guy." I smiled and nodded my head. "And I've discovered that caring for the poor is part of the Great Commission, because Jesus instructed us to 'teach the nations to observe all the things I have commanded you.' And Jim, Jesus certainly taught us to care for the poor, didn't he? Caring for the poor is part of the Great Commission!" said Bill Bright. When we got back to the hotel, Bill asked if we could pray together. We sat down and grasped each other's hands. First praying for each other, we also prayed for each other's ministries. Bill Bright prayed for me, and for the work of Call to Renewal and Sojourners. When we were finished, he said he wanted to raise some money for our "work of the Lord."

Bill, who was now more than 80 years old, soon began to get sick. I kept track of how he was doing. Then one day, I got a letter - from Bill Bright. Here's what the letter said:

My Dear Jim,

Congratulations on your great ministry for our Lord. I rejoice with you. An unexpected gift designated to my personal use makes possible this modest contribution to your magazine. I wish I had the means to add at least three more zeros to the enclosed check. Warm affection in Christ. Yours for helping to fulfill the Great Commission each year until our Lord returns. Bill

Inside the letter was a check for $1,000.

As I was reading Bill's letter, my colleague Duane Shank walked into my office. "Did you hear?" he asked. "Bill Bright just died." We looked at the postmark on the letter and compared it to the news reports of Bill's death. We concluded that writing me this letter was one of the last things that Bill Bright did on earth. Bill sent a $1,000 gift to the magazine that had exposed his most embarrassing moment more than 30 years before, as an affirmation of the ministry of another Christian leader who he once regarded as his enemy. I couldn't hold back the tears, and can't again as I write down this story for the first time.

The experience of my relationship with Bill Bright has taught me much about the promise and power of reconciliation. I will never again deny the prospect of coming together with those with whom I disagree. It is indeed the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to break down the walls between us. Thank you, Bill. I will never forget you.

A version of this article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Sojourners magazine.
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Jim Wallis recently appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," with Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, and Al Sharpton.
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ON THE GROUND ^top

Carrying the crosses of Christmas
by J. James DeConto

As you drive south on Route 18 across the northernmost swath of Allegheny County, North Carolina, you'll encounter a roadside sign, "Welcome to Sparta, N.C." If your eye catches the sign, you probably won't have time to notice two drab, gray buildings that lie just beyond this welcome. Potholes mar the driveways. Empty beer cans, cigarette packs, fast-food wrappers, and even an old car battery litter the grounds. Electrical wires and television cables run in and out of windows, some with torn screens, broken glass, or crinkled black garbage bags where the glass once was. When I called about renting an apartment there for me, my wife, and two daughters, the landlady said the complex would not be suitable for us, but for the same price - about $400 a month - she could rent us a single-family house with a yard.

Upstairs in one of the buildings, three Christmas tree workers share a single bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Like many of the men and teenage boys who travel far from their families to cultivate and harvest North Carolina Fraser firs - the Cadillac of Christmas trees - these three have found shelter, but not much hospitality. They cram into single-wide trailers or basement apartments, two or three to a bedroom and a few more in the living room, often at $50 a month per person. Consuelo Hall, a Colombian who hears the workers' stories at her popular market and taco bar, tells one eerily similar to the Advent story these workers help Americans to celebrate: A fellow Latina literally considered moving her family into a barn to escape the claustrophobia of living in the same house with a group of male farmworkers.

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SPIRITUAL PRACTICES ^top

Advent: 'A dangerous time for the faithful'
by Julie Polter

Advent is marked by tension - tension between uncertainty and hope, fear and longing, the now and not-yet of God's promises. It is a time of penitential preparation for the birth of Christ. It is a dangerous time for the faithful, because it calls us to examine the end and the beginning of our faith.

Fittingly, the lectionary passages for this season are as much about judgment as about reassurance. Christmas may inevitably bring sentimental soft-focus scenes of mother and infant, but the scriptures for Advent make clear that such a scene is merely the eye of a hurricane. It is a mistake to think that just because God comes as a helpless child the effects of incarnation will be small and manageable, contained. During Advent, the words of the prophets - from Isaiah to John the Baptist - are foretelling change, potentially cataclysmic, at all levels: personal, political, cosmic. Why do we think that God being with us will make the ride less wild?

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SOUL WORKS ^top

Common miracles

The miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine - which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.

- Wendell Berry

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CULTURE WATCH ^top

'Tis better to give than receive

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RELIGION AND POLITICS ^top

Politics and Christ
by Frank S. Palmisano III

To what extent did Jesus involve himself with the tense political situation of his day? When Peter questions the Lord about taxes, Jesus admonishes him to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto the Lord what is the Lord's. When he stands before Pontius Pilate on the charge of blasphemy, Jesus clearly defends himself by putting his own mission as far from the political spectrum of turmoil and unrest of the day as he could possibly go. "My kingdom is not of this world," he spoke. "If it were, my servants would be fighting." Jesus constantly eschewed titles and grandeur. In the political scene of the day, there were groups of nationalists (or zealots) who pushed for Jesus to adopt a political agenda and set up a temporal king on earth. How many Christians too easily fall into the same trap as those zealots? Grievously, it's evident in the masses of Christians trying to establish a temporal reign of Christ here on earth through a political candidate.

How many of us find a perfect set of moral imperatives in one candidate, only to stamp him with Christ's seal of approval, forgetting that it's a change of heart, not a changing of the guard, that is required? How many of us act as God's attorneys when we are not satisfied to be witnesses? As many rushed off to the polls in hopes of consecrating the best man for the job under a banner of Christ, I was reminded of the Crusaders who carried banners in the Lord's name, as they went forth to establish "Christian rule" on earth, and sealed their testimony in the blood of unbelievers. Let us take to heart that we are merely sojourners, not here to establish kingdoms, but to bring people into the only one that matters.

Frank S. Palmisano III is a freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland.


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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Karen Silliman writes from Salinas, California:

Rev. Jim Wallis did a beautiful job on "Meet the Press." He has a wonderful voice, and such a common-sense approach to the need for common ground. I'm a Republican - have been all my life. Of all the panel members, only Rev. Wallis spoke to my ideas. God bless him!

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Alyse writes from Lewes, Delaware:

I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all those at Sojourners. Since a young age, I have attended a strict Christian school. My views have always been more liberal than the viewpoints of the students and faculty. However, it was a problem that could be dealt with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, a few months ago, my father committed suicide. The attitude of the church and school were harsh, unforgiving, and hurtful. The very people I had grown up with were now judging my father on a single action. He was a great man who loved everyone he met, and I know he is with God. The people in the school quickly managed to push me further from God.

Thankfully, I heard of Sojourners on "Meet the Press" this morning. The eloquence of Mr. Wallis and his overall message encouraged me to visit the Web site. I cannot express how uplifting it is to know that other Christians share my beliefs. Christianity is about love, pure and simple. A lot of Christians have forgotten that in their rush to judge others. It is not too late; we can still save our faith. This magazine inspired me to attempt to save my own.

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Hugh McCall, a veteran from 1963-67, writes:

I agree with most of your comments, David, but I don't agree that the Marine in question "murdered" the wounded "insurgent" ["Terrorism is the enemy of democracy," SojoMail 11/24/2004]. There's far more to it than what the camera filmed. Do you think the insurgents are fighting "by the rules?" I don't approve of this war, but I know our soldiers are doing the best they can. Young men barely 20 years old and in combat are in survival mode.

The young Marine who shot the unarmed, wounded "insurgent" was in combat, day after day, and maybe night after night without sleep. The day before, his buddy was blown up when he touched the body of a "wounded insurgent." I highly disagree with Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq; all this tragedy could have been avoided. But, when young men are in combat they do things they normally wouldn't do.

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Jerise Fogel writes from Huntington, West Virginia:

I just wanted to send a note to thank Sojourners for keeping up on the School of the Americas Watch and protest, and for the great article by the Sojo interns in the recent edition ["Hope and grief at the gates of Fort Benning," SojoMail 11/24/2004]. I also wanted to give you a small update: H.R. 1258, while it has 128 co-sponsors at present, won't be voted on during this session, and SOAW folks are counting on re-introducing similar legislation (with updated statistics and reasoning) at the next legislative session, which begins January. There are new congressional representatives in some districts, and if yours is one of them, it would be great for you to contact those reps right NOW, before the bill gets introduced, and get them familiar with the issue (check out www.soaw.org), and ask them to co-sponsor.

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Benjamin Sywulka writes from Guatemala City, Guatemala:

I'm a loyal fan of your magazine and of the Christian progressive movement, and I wanted to take a minute to let you know that while I disagree with the horrible atrocities committed by SOA graduates, I'm afraid I disagree with closing the school down ["Action Alert: Close the School of the Americas," 11/16/2004]. I am a Guatemalan, and a liberal Guatemalan at that, but I feel that the SOA is one of the few places where truly heartless Latin American military officers get any exposure whatsoever to democracy and human rights. I didn't always feel this way, but I did a research paper on the SOA and concluded that for the sake of democracy, it is better to have the SOA open than closed. If you would like to read the paper, it is found at http://ben.sywulka.com/research/soapaper.pdf. The paper essentially shows that the impact (positive or negative) of SOA on Latin American democracy was and maybe still is pretty much null. I believe the new version of SOA, the WHISC, though possibly not super effective, is still the closest many military officers will come to being exposed to valuing human life in the way that Americans do. Lest you be a cynical American who thinks that Americans don't value life, I suggest you spend some time in Latin America trying to live without getting killed, and then maybe you'll understand why exposure to at least the theory behind SOA is important.

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Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: boomerang@sojo.net. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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CORRECTION: Several readers have written to inform us that Margaret Hassan, a relief worker executed in Iraq, was born in Ireland - not Britian, as we reported last week.


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